Home » Audiobooks » How Do Podcast Nuts Find the Time? They Listen at Chipmunk Speed

How Do Podcast Nuts Find the Time? They Listen at Chipmunk Speed

14 July 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jarod Reyes wanted to reduce his anxiety. His doctor suggested meditation, so he subscribed to a podcast to guide him toward a Zen state.

“Close your eyes,” the podcaster’s voice would intone languidly over instrumental music. “Take a slow, deep breath.” But something about it made him anxious. The episodes were too long; it was hard to focus.

He knew what he had to do. Now the 35-year-old web developer sets the podcast to run faster, forcing its hypnotherapist to make it snappy with her soothing thoughts. “On the exhale, allow yourself to settle in,” she hurries along at double speed. “Maybe roll your shoulders back. Or wiggle your hips a bit.”

He found inner peace. “It’s much easier for me to sit focused for 10 minutes,” Mr. Reyes says, “than 20 minutes.”

How do people have so much time for so many podcasts? Some don’t. They speed-listen and knock out two, three, four podcasts in the time one usually takes.

Geoff Newman, 31, thought a colleague who told him about speed-listening was nuts. Then the London web developer and filmmaker tried 1.2 times normal speed, then 2x, then 2.5x. Now he’s comfortable at 3x.

It’s painful to consume his favorite tech and videogame podcasts at actual speed. “It sounds so strange,” he says. “Like they’re smoking lots of weed.”

. . . .

When ESPN anchor Rachel Nichols moved to Los Angeles last year, she discovered she could squeeze two full podcasts into her drive to and from work if she pushed their speed to as fast as 2.3x. Ms. Nichols proselytizes the joys of speed-listening on Twitter . “I like pushing the cause,” she says.

Ms. Nichols was a guest recently on “The Lowe Post,” a show hosted by ESPN colleague Zach Lowe, and she made a plea to the audience as soon as she was introduced: “I’m going to ask everyone to now go to their app and speed up the rest of this podcast.”

. . . .

A fourfold speedup sounds entirely sane to Max Deutsch, 24, who says he has speed-listened to 69 audiobooks this year. The faster the speed, he found, the more engaged he was. “That’s when I asked myself: I wonder how fast I could actually listen?”

The San Francisco tech-product manager, unable to find apps with speeds over 3x, created Rightspeed, a $2.99 app that accelerates podcasts in nearly unnoticeable 0.1x increments every two minutes. A one-hour podcast that begins at 2x, ends at 5x and takes 17 minutes.

“It’s sort of like the Roger Bannister, four-minute-mile effect,” Mr. Deutsch says. “Until you’re told it’s possible for a human to listen at this speed, you just decide you can’t.”

When Andy Mullan, a government employee in San Francisco, checks out a library book, he downloads the audio version. He listens at 3x and follows in print. Mr. Mullan, 32, says his reading consumption has increased and his comprehension has improved.

Hundreds of thousands of Audible listeners use higher speeds, according to the audiobook company’s data. Audible says speed-listeners prefer nonfiction but do binge on mysteries and thrillers.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

PG has listened to accelerated audio for years. He didn’t know it was a thing until he read the OP.


27 Comments to “How Do Podcast Nuts Find the Time? They Listen at Chipmunk Speed”

  1. I stopped at the guy who was advised to meditate because of anxiety, but couldn’t because meditation was “too slow” and made him anxious. That’s a good one right there, that is.

  2. Ashe Elton Parker

    I have enough trouble focusing on spoken word at normal speed. I couldn’t speed listen. I mean, I literally have to sit very still, staring at nothing, doing nothing, not moving, not thinking to hear and comprehend every word of an audiobook at normal speed. There are times I have to ask native Enlish speakers (I to am a native English speaker) to repeat what they just said–maybe a few times, maybe a little slower each time–to comprehend things at times. I can sometimes keep up with a “clean” British accent (the kind you get on text-to-speech programs, and only certain speccific voices, and nearly all masculine), but other accents cause me trouble, and the heavier/thicker they are, the further from comprehension I get, and the more often I ask the speaker to repeat more slowly.

    I’ve always had this problem. It sucks.

    • Patricia Sierra

      I’ve had a problem with listening/processing at a speed that matches the speed of the delivery on some news shows in the past year or so. I’ve chalked it up to being a side-effect of being too damn old. I don’t do well with audio books because a) I can’t do anything else while I listen, and b) I fall asleep so I lose my place in the book.

      • They have toys that let you speed up the voice without changing the pitch. They may be using one to speed things up so the so-called news segment can have more ads …

        • I’ve actually wondered if they do that. Lately, though, I haven’t been aware of ultra-speed.

        • The tape players the blind use, or used to use, could be had with variable speed and pitch. I was surprised that the function seems to have never been added to MP3 players, where it would be just some more software.

          I don’t know about news, but my wife is a fan of those “court TV” shows, and called me in last year to hear Judge Judy in chipmunk mode. I checked online, and apparently for a few months the networks were speeding some shows up 10-15% to make more space for commercials, as well as shrinking the credits to run ads on half the screen, scrolling bars and popups during the shows, etc.

          Chipmunk mode went away after a while; I guess ratings started going down.

  3. I pretty much speed up audio whenever I can. YouTube makes it super easy to pick the speed. I have a friend who has trained himself to listen at speeds I can’t handle. When he recommends a video/audio to me it always includes an evaluation of how easy it will be to listen to it faster than as produced.

  4. Doesn’t the voice become shrill when you listen at faster speed ? a bit like when you listen at 33 rpm at 45 rpm speed ?
    Sorry if that’s a completely stupid question.

  5. I must think slower than other people.

    I sometimes go back a few sentences in a podcast to re-listen because either I got lost in my own thoughts and missed some, or I want to hear an idea repeated so I can make sure I understand it completely.

    Everybody’s brain works a little bit differently. The outcome is what matters.

    • Ashe Elton Parker

      I’m a slow thinker too. Proved this to myself by working in Fast Food (very briefly), to be told by the boss at my second such job that I was “not cut out” for working in the Fast Food industry.

      I was actually relieved, and much more suited to repetetive jobs that employ the hands. I work well in manufacturing jobs, which I actually enjoyed doing–when I had to work.

  6. I listen to audiobooks at 1.25x – I might speed it up a bit. To me, the 1x speed is unbearably slow.

    I’ve never really listened to podcasts because I just want to scream at them to *get on with it*. Strangely, it never occurred to me that I could make them do just that…


  7. Yes! My wife listens to audiobooks at 1.0x, and it makes me insane. I’ve been doing 1.3x for years. Sometimes, with a really slow reader, I’ll bump it to 1.5x. But after reading this article, I tried 2.0x on a podcast just now (Story Grid) — and it was fine! Then I switched to another podcast (Beyond Wellness), and found that 2.0x was so fast that I couldn’t understand all of what the speakers were saying. So yeah, it definitely varies from source to source. But I follow 16 shows and usually keep two audiobooks in rotation on top of that, so 1.0x makes me fall intolerably behind my cascade of content.

  8. I listen to three audiobooks per month and six podcasts per week so I’m a big fan of speeding up. However, no two are alike. I cannot do a British voice faster than 2.0 but wish my podcast app would go past 2.0. I’ve tried other apps but they either don’t carry my podcast or are just clunky.

  9. Patricia Sierra

    I didn’t know that this was even a thing — that you can speed up audio. I wouldn’t have a clue how to do that. Maybe someone speaking very slowly could explain it to me.

    • Huh. I have three players and none of them have variable speed… but the newest is maybe five years old. Perhaps I should look into getting a new one.

  10. How do you speed up the audio on a podcast?

  11. Podcasts annoy me at the best of times and much prefer a text version I can read at my pace while comprehending the details. Maybe podcasts are more wordy and less disciplined than properly edited text. I guess we’re all different.

    • I too absorb content more quickly and with more retention via text than via sound, but at the end of the day my eyes are too tired to focus and i still want to read in bed. Listening, even at 1.5x speed, is better for falling asleep. Retention is terrible so I might wind up re-reading what I heard, but hey, more entertainment value for the money… retention is better listening to narrated content than robo-read content.

    • Same here. Only listening to something, I tend to drift and start thinking of other things. Watching and listening is a little better, but I’d rather read a transcript than watch a video. I can absorb the information more quickly and fully.

  12. I’ve listened to audiobooks for several years now, and it wasn’t until some time last year that I ever felt the need to speed up the audio. I was listening to a book where the narrator read the description very slowly, with such long pauses between sentences that it drove me nuts. So I sped it up just to get through it. The problem was that he read the dialogue at normal speed, so that was all too fast.

    I think I listened to Tom Sawyer at 1.5 or maybe even 2x speed, again just to get through it because I wasn’t liking it much, and it was narrated in a very leisurely way.

    It’s definitely not something I do on a regular basis, only on extremely rare occasions. Most narrators read at a normal talking pace, and that’s the pace I normally read at even when reading text in my head, so that works best for me. I guess I just like to linger on a book more than some people.

    As for concentration, I actually find my attention wandering far often more when reading text myself than when listening to an audiobook. Unless you pause it, an audiobook keeps going, so you have to keep paying attention. With a paperback or ebook, I sometimes find myself staring off into space, thinking about something else, and realize I’ve been doing that for several minutes. Probably part of the reason it takes me so much longer to get through books when I have to read them myself.

  13. Suburbanbanshee

    I have to slow down audiobooks, because when I bought them they were presented at normal speed. Audible now sends most of them out at 2x or 1.5x, which doubtless saves them money.

    I do not listen to audio in order to save time.

    I read infinitely faster than I have any wish to listen, so I assume folks with more audial processing power would enjoy a fast listen. What is impressive is that they can multi-task so well while listening. Conversation while typing is about as far as my audial processing ever stretched.

  14. I have a chrome extension (search for video speed controller https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/video-speed-controller/nffaoalbilbmmfgbnbgppjihopabppdk?hl=en-US ) that lets me adjust the playback speed of videos.

    I find that I watch most videos in the 1.5-2x range, some faster some slower (depending on the presenter)

    normal speed just doesn’t keep me engaged and my mind wanders.

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